You know how much I love to watch college football. How many times have you seen a huge underdog go into the home stadium of a football powerhouse and play them very close the first half? It seems like it happens every Saturday during college football season. You’ll look at the scoreboard and Podunk State Community College is tied with Ohio State at halftime. But then the next time you see the score, Ohio State has scored three touchdowns in the third quarter and is blowing out the little team. What happened? Halftime happened, that’s what. You think of all of the halftime speeches you’ve ever heard of. All these coaches get up in front of their team and pump them up and motivate them. Why do they have to do that? Because there’s something about halftime. What happens at halftime will many times determine who wins and who loses. You think about the psychology of halftime. You have just played your guts out for 30 minutes—which is really over an hour. You got up that day knowing what was ahead of you. You spent all day getting pumped up for the game that night. By the time game time rolled around, your emotions were at an absolute frenzy. And then the game started and you poured out everything you had on the field. And then you go sit down in a locker room. The emotional frenzy is gone. It has been replaced by aching muscles and bruises. And then you realize—I’ve got to go out and do this all over again. It’s not over. As a matter of fact, it’s not even close to being over. You’re only halfway there. And the next thing you know, you are discouraged. How you handle that halfway discouragement will determine whether you get trounced or get victory. It will determine whether you quit in discouragement or victoriously finish what you started. Look back up to verse 6. Where does verse 6 say that the remnant is in rebuilding the wall? They’re halfway. They had closed up all the holes and had a wall going all the way around Jerusalem. But it was only done to half the height that it needed to be. Up until that point, they had a mind to work. They overcame the external opposition that faced them and got busy. I’m sure they were excited and motivated to get busy. That’s what it means when Scripture says that they had a mind to work. But then, that initial excitement wore off. The work became hard. They were about 20-30 days into it by now. Day after day, moving rubble. Move a rock pile—build a wall. Sweat. Stiffness. Callused and bleeding hands from all the hard work. And all of a sudden, you look around and there is still a pile of work that needs to be done. Verse 10 puts it well. “The workers strength is decayed. But we’re still surrounded by rubbish.” Can you sense the discouragement there? It was halftime, the score was tied, and all of a sudden they realized that they were completely overmatched. They realized that they were incapable of completing the task that was before them. They began to see it as impossible. They said as much in the rest of verse 10. They said, “we are not able to build the wall.” Those are the feelings that the people had at halftime. They were experiencing the same feelings that we can get as we work to accomplish the mission God has given us. “I remember those days when we used to go out and work hard to bring people into the church. “I remember when we used to run buses and knock doors and bring them in by the droves.” What happened? Halftime came. Halftime came and many of us realized that we are completely overmatched. All the sin that is outside these doors is way too much for us to handle. We are completely incapable of fixing all the problems that are out there. We are not able to build the wall. That is discouragement. It’s the exact same kind of discouragement that the remnant was feeling here in our passage. But where did that discouragement come from? Aside from the fact that it was halftime, what fed that discouragement? First, it was fed from the outside. Look back at verses 7-9:
Once again, Sanballat and Tobiah pop their ugly heads up again. But this time, they brought some friends with them. Do you remember several weeks ago when we talked about Gesham the Arabian? Well, he’s back with his crew. But now they brought somebody else along. This time they brought the Ashdodites with them. Now, pull your map back up in your mind. Sanballat was from Samaria which was north of Jerusalem. Tobiah was from Ammon which was east of Jerusalem. Gesham was in charge of most of the Arabian Peninsula which is south of Jerusalem. What did that leave? That left a small sliver of land to the west of Jerusalem before you head off into the Mediterranean Sea. That land was controlled by what used to be called Philistines. Now, hundreds of years after King David, they were called the Ashdodites. In other words, enemies were coming at them from all angles. Instead of their enemies going away, they actually increased. Did you notice that? So if anybody tells you that doing the will of God makes everything go smooth for you, they’re lying. Scripture tells us that when we are on mission for God, our enemies will increase. More people will come against us. That can be discouraging. But notice how these enemies came against the remnant. Verse 8 says that they conspired together. This wasn’t some sort of full frontal attack against Jerusalem. They couldn’t do that. Remember that Nehemiah had the blessing of the king. And if any of them mounted an attack against Nehemiah, the king wouldn’t have taken kindly to it. So, instead of launching a full attack, they conspired together to “hinder” Jerusalem. In other words, they were going to launch a series of sneak attacks against vulnerable parts of the wall. What was their purpose? Was it to completely destroy the wall? No, it was to strike terror in their hearts. Does that sound familiar? See, terrorism is not a new thing. It’s been around forever. That was what these people were doing. They were conspiring together to launch a series of terrorist attacks against Jerusalem. Their goal was not to defeat them on the battlefield. Their goal was to make them lose heart and quit building the wall. But they weren’t going to be successful. Because, even though they were using sneaky tactics, they were still launching an external attack. And anytime somebody attacks us from the outside, we naturally martial a defense. There’s an old saying—nothing unites like a common enemy. Patriotism is always at its highest point when a nation is attacked from the outside. Just like we tend to rally together when our beliefs are attacked by the world. And make no mistake about it, we are every bit as surrounded by enemies as Jerusalem was. Jerusalem was surrounded by enemies who wanted nothing more than to stop them from doing what God had called them to do. We are surrounded by enemies who want nothing more than to stop us from accomplishing the mission that God has called us to. Those enemies will attack our Bible. They will attack our doctrine. They will attack our children. They will attack our morality. But even though those attacks come, they are rarely successful. Because when those attacks come, we tend to get our backs up and rally together to defend against them. That’s what happened with the remnant in verse 9. When those attacks came, they prayed and rallied together to defend themselves. When those kinds of attacks come against us, we pray and spend a lot of time defending the things we believe in. It almost acts as a way to rally us rather than discourage us. So, if the discouragement didn’t come from outside, where did it come from? Because verse 10 clearly tells us that the people were terribly discouraged. Where did that discouragement come from? Let’s look at verses 10-12:
Where did the discouragement come from? It came from inside. There were some natural factors that might have made them more vulnerable to being discouraged. Remember that they were halfway done with the wall. We are vulnerable to being discouraged when we’ve been hard at work for a while and don’t seem to be getting anywhere. Another factor was that they were tired. They had been working extremely hard for a few weeks straight. I’m sure that they took the Sabbaths off, but working as hard as you can, sunup to sundown, for 6 days a week will wear you down in a hurry. And when you are exhausted, you are vulnerable to being discouraged. But it takes more than those things to become discouraged. Those things might be the dry tinder, but it still takes a match to get the fire going. So what was the match that lit the fires of discouragement among the remnant? Nothing more than words. How does verse 11 start? “And our adversaries said…” And what does it say in the middle of verse 12? “They said unto us ten times…” There might be all kinds of factors going on in your life that will make you vulnerable to being discouraged. But those factors alone can’t do it. The thing that will push you over the edge from simply being tired and overworked to being discouraged is words. Negative words will bring you and others around you to discouragement. Hard work makes you tired and achy and will even wear you out. But negativism will suck the life right out of you. Just like it did to the remnant. It decayed their strength. Now, how did it happen? First, it happened because they listened to negativism. They put themselves in a position where they knew they were going to hear negative words—and they didn’t care. What does verse 12 say? “It came to pass, that when the Jews which dwelt by them came…” There was a group of people who lived next to their enemies. So when the enemies of the Lord’s work spoke negative words to them, they listened. How many people do you know that are negative people? I don’t care what’s going on, they will find something negative to say about it. The church could double in size and they would just happen to point out how they couldn’t find a parking spot. The youth group could be exploding and all they could say about it was how loud they are. The Lord could open up all kinds of ways to minister to children and all they would have to say about it is how bad they tear the place up. If you’re looking for a way to be discouraged, all you have to do is hang around people like that. It is a fact of life that whatever you listen to will eventually seep into your brain. If you feed your ears a constant diet of negative words, it will sink in. And rest assured that it will sink in when you are at your lowest point of physical exhaustion. That’s where it starts. It starts by hanging around and listening to negative words. But then it quickly moves on from there. See, the adversaries spoke their negative words in verse 11. The Jews that hung around with them heard those words. But it didn’t stop there. Because misery loves company. And discouragement doesn’t like to live alone. So, instead of keeping their discouragement to themselves, those people spread it. If we could learn to spread the Gospel as effectively as we spread negativism, we would be in the revival that we’re praying for. But notice how effectively the Jews spread the negativism in verse 11. First, they were persistent. They said it again and again and again. They took the negative words of the enemy and they multiplied them times 10. Not only did they multiply the number of times they spoke the words, they multiplied the words themselves. In other words, they exaggerated the words they heard. When they got a gloomy report, they repeated it much more gloomy than they received it. See, the enemy gave the report that they were going to strike them with those hit and run terrorist attacks. But by the time the negative Jews got around to spreading the word, the attacks were going to come from all places at once. It was going to be a full-frontal, overwhelming attack and there was nothing they could do about it. Do you see how they were exaggerating what was really being said? Negative words are like that. They multiply and they exaggerate the negative to the point that it seems hopeless. To the point where the strength of the bearers is decayed. To the point where we are not able to build the wall. We are not able to accomplish the mission God has called us to. We can’t let that happen to us. Just like Nehemiah couldn’t let that happen to the remnant. Look at verses 13-15:
We need to understand something. Disturbance and opposition will always come from the outside. As long as we’re doing the work that God calls us to do, we will face opposition. Our best hope against outside opposition is to pray about it and defend against it. That’s what Nehemiah did in verse 13. He set up a defense system to protect against outside attack. But outside attack isn’t where most defeats come from. Most defeats come from the inside. All we can do is defend against what comes from the outside. But on the other hand, we need to completely conquer discouragement that comes from the inside. So, how did Nehemiah conquer discouragement in the remnant? First, in verse 14, he gathered the people together and spoke encouraging words to them. No “false hope, Suzy Sunshine” words—good, godly, encouraging words. “Don’t be afraid.” He fed their heads with positive, spiritually encouraging words to counter the negativism they had been feeding on. Then he told them to fix their focus. “Remember the Lord.” “Remember how great and wonderful and awesome He is.” Take your eyes off the rubbish. Take your eyes off your decayed strength. Take your eyes off you half-done wall. Take your eyes off your enemy. Your strength isn’t in your physical condition. Your abilities aren’t going to finish the wall. You’re in no danger of being defeated by your enemies. Because God is in control. It is His strength that matters. It is His glory that is on display here. It is He who will overcome your enemies. Because an enemy of God’s people is an enemy of God. And He is great and terrible. Nehemiah conquered the people’s discouragement by giving them encouraging words and by fixing their focus. He also told them to fight. But notice that he didn’t tell them to fight against anything. He told them to fight FOR something. Instead of tearing down one another with negative words, he told them to fight for one another. And if I see what I’m doing as fighting for you, I’ll be a whole lot less likely to try and tear you down with negative words. If I’m fighting for you, I won’t destroy you with discouragement. And what happened? Verse 15 says that God brought all of the enemies’ counsel to nought. In other words, all of the enemies’ discouraging words fell on deaf ears. Were the people still tired? Were they still only halfway through with the wall? Was there still a huge pile of rubble on the ground? Yes. But what was the difference? They weren’t discouraged. They were able to get back to work. Halftime was over and they were able to go out and play in the third quarter.
Are you discouraged tonight? Maybe you need to check the company you keep. Instead of hanging around with negative people, maybe you need to seek out people who will lift you up and encourage you. Maybe you need to find people to spend time with who will remind you how great God is… and will remind you that you are more than a conqueror through Jesus Christ who loves you and gave His life for you. Maybe you need to quit fighting against everything and start to fight for your brothers and sisters in Christ. Defend each other like a good brother would defend the honor of his sister or his mother. Is that what you need to do tonight? If you do, then God will bring all of you discouragement to nought. Will you let Him do that for you tonight? We’ve got a mission to do. It’s only halftime. It’s time to get back on the field.